It was my experience of reviewing She Cries Wolf‘s album Liar that inspired me to interview the band. I was left with a lot of curiosities, in particular about the themes that were expressed across the eleven tracks. So on a warm day in Melbourne, I got on the phone to She Cries Wolf’s vocalist Luke Harriss and guitarist Daniel Belic. The two were having a couple of beers at the pub, and the vibe was relaxed before I even got stuck into questions.
Liar is the third album released by the Gold Coast based quartet. The album came via a surprise release last Friday (22nd February), with secrecy surrounding the album, aside from an image of the album artwork shared anonymously around social media. The unique release approach was devoid of pre-order push, nor featured a long string of single releases to whet appetites. The only hint of something new on the way was the release of “Magdalene” two days prior.
Starting with the release, I firstly wondered if this approach meant that everything had hit them all at once. “Yeah, definitely,” was Luke’s answer. Adding that there’s “a lot of moving parts which otherwise would have otherwise been prepared months in advance that we’re having to scramble to do now. But to be honest, it’s really exciting. I’ve really enjoyed doing everything this way. I kind of enjoy a bit of animosity so to speak. It’s been pretty cool.”
A factor in She Cries Wolf taking this approach was seeing what happened with previous releases, and wanting to use that for their benefit. Luke explained: “To be honest our first album Divorce got leaked through a forum. It had so much more traction doing it that way. I was like ‘Why don’t we do a controlled leak?’. It was my idea and it took a long time for the band to really understand what I meant. But I basically said ‘Let’s keep it a secret. We can teaser a photo with the album cover that doesn’t feature our name on it. That’ll resonate an image in peoples’ mind, and we can release the album as a thief in the night so to speak, and just put it out there and see what happens.’ It was exciting but also nerve-wracking because we weren’t sure how it was going to go. From all accounts it seems to be going really well now, so we’re stoked!”
“Look, I really don’t care about charting on ARIA.
We’re just putting an album out.”
– Luke Harriss, She Cries Wolf
I wondered out loud if the She Cries Wolf camp had received any push-back on the idea, knowing what this industry can be like when you decide to do things differently to how they’ve always been done. “A lot of my friends – I won’t mention names – who run labels or who are involved in labels.. it’s just so foreign to them, because they’re all about charting on ARIA and doing that kind of thing. For a band that isn’t exactly established – like we’re not Northlane who also did theirs as a surprise – it was a bit weird for us to do it. But I was like ‘Look, I really don’t care about charting on ARIA. We’re just putting an album out.’ “
Liar = Collaborative Sonic Art About Liars
With the release plan, also turned his thoughts toward the songs themselves, recognising that the music of Liar is more “a piece of art that is one piece, that needs to be listened to as a full length album” than a collection of bangers that’d work well in isolation if released as singles. “So I was like ‘Let’s just do it as a surprise release. Let’s break the mould a little bit.'”
I recognised this element in my review, that the songs didn’t stick in my head so much, but the emotional impact of what was shared certainly left an impression. The sequence of songs works together to create an atmosphere. Luke agreed, saying “A lot of the hooks aren’t really there.. Don’t get me wrong, we have hooks and recurring choruses sort of, but it’s not a prominent thing. It’s all kind of telling a story. There’s a definite arc that needs to be appreciated, I feel.”
Thematically Liar was powerful emotionally, yet I found myself confused whether certain ‘she’s mentioned in songs were the same ‘she’s in others. It felt powerfully specific while also carrying an air of vagueness. I’d thought it could have been an ongoing story, but struggled to follow a thread of character, even though the highly charged emotions continued. I shared this curiosity with the guys, and asked were the songs connected by the theme of lying?
“That’s it, you’ve nailed it,” Luke confirmed. “It’s not so much one story. It’s multiple stories. I’m not going to name names for a bunch of reasons, but 40% of the lyrics were me, 40% of the lyrics were someone else, 10% of the other lyrics were someone else, and 10% someone else. So that’s why there are multiple stories and multiple takes and accounts of situations that affected me personally, all of them, in one way or another. But that’s like when we went out with this, in terms of our own socials, from a personal perspective, we just said ‘Look, these aren’t necessarily our memories. These aren’t necessarily our stories. But they’re opening the door. So we’re allowing people to really come in and share their perspective of the lyrics and what they feel from it. Because like we did leave it quite open for the most part.
“But there’s definitely linked songs. Like “After Death” and “Moments” are linked, 100%. That’s why they’ve got recurring lyrics within the two. A lot of the lyrics by other people were submitted to me as poems, so I’ve structured them into songs. Kyal and Belic have really made sure that sonically they reflect the lyrics, so the lyric has more impact. We took a long time to do that. A really long time.”
Creating Trust From Broken Trust
Two years in the making, She Cries Wolf have channeled (‘bled’, even) a lot of tough experiences into what we hear on Liar. Daniel shared “There were a lot of things that happened to us personally. I guess the underlying theme of Liar is the idea that as individuals we’ve had a lot of personal experiences and a lot of personal conflicts. It ranged from suicides within families, friends separations, miscarriage, through to.. all kinds of things. The permeating core of it was the fact that you could always rely on somebody. I guess like as humans or as how we sort of connect with each other, was the idea of a foundation of trust, and the ability to connect with one another on that level. I guess our biggest observation to the fact is the idea that lying is truly the greatest sin in the fact that it breaks that foundation. So you can no longer lean or rely on somebody to be able to help you through those experiences or help you through turbulent times. We saw in our own individual experiences – but not just of our own, of our friends and our family that had experienced people like that – there was this really pervasive theme there. We were like ‘Look, we’ve got a lot of stories to compile from this theme or the topic of liars and how they affect our lives’, and to kind of talk about that into the album.”
As a listener, this sense of frustration and anger comes across clearly. As well as a sense of “I’ve kept quiet, but now I’m going to speak.” I imagined that in sharing songs of raw fury directed toward a person, there’d be a lot of potential that the individuals involved might hear and recognise themselves in the songs and cause even more conflict. Luke affirmed that this is exactly why he won’t reveal the identities of people who’ve contributed lyrically to the album, nor who within the band wrote which songs, even though the band aspired for these stories to be heard.
“If we did, it could really negatively impact some peoples’ lives. I wish I could, because the work that’s been put into this is beautiful. It’s such a collaborative effort that there’s some things there that I can’t claim as my own, even though I did structure them and do the work there. It makes it a bit weird. But in the same token, it makes it beautiful because I can really appreciate the music. I listen to the full album and I’m so stoked. I listen to it and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I hear certain lines. And reading your review, once again, you just got it. You said yourself that you cried listening to it and reading the lyrics and poems. You connecting with it on that emotional deep level really got to me. I like started tearing up myself. I think that’s cool. I think that’s what we need, helping us connect with strangers. That’s why when I shared that post, your name is Kel, I didn’t know if it was a girl or a guy. It was just like ‘If you know this person, please reach out to them’, and I think that’s cool. There’s beauty in that as well.”
Daniel also appreciated how the collaborative effort on lyrics meant that the album was not a singular person talking about their personal experiences and then having an album full of songs dedicated through the eyes of a single person. “It was more through a collaboration of people that it not only made so much sense, but was also so much more fulfilling to be able to write an album to not just simply talk about it through your own experiences, but be able to sonically construct and put together multiple other peoples’ personal experiences. And when they came to and confided within you what they personally have been through, to be able to put that together into music, that was the big thing for us. The ability to kind of harbour that and just be the agent of conveying that to the greater audience – that’s the biggest thing for me. And when you wrote that review, that was perfect where there were moments where you were like ‘I don’t particularly understand some things’. I think about our releases that we’ve released to date, where it has been a lot of through a single lens. I think that there’s a lot of different experiences where other people can connect with, and other different and very unique ways through that.”
It was at this point of transcribing my recorded interview where I realised that with this album called Liar – to which people have anonymously shared their stories and poems of broken trust – that She Cries Wolf have created a space of trust and privacy, where people are able to express themselves safely. It suddenly felt a lot more like a beautiful full circle of respectful care than a ‘loud and angry mosh album’. As I’d shared in the interview, I felt that a united front undeniably benefits the feel of strength with the album. “Definitely,” Luke agreed. “It’s a united front. There’s a clear vision and a clear focus. Before writing any lyrics or before writing a riff or anything, we definitely had the name Liar in the forefront of our mind. Every facet of the creative process was focused around that theme.”
Taking time with Liar will soon reveal a dark emotional atmosphere that’s at times tough to sit with. As someone who is not at all skilled with a musical instrument, I was curious about the creation of this. Daniel immediately thought of “Maternally Malignant”; a no holds barred take on a toxic upbringing that was inspired by a conversation with a friend.
“When you have someone that close to you explain to you about a story of what that looked like.. as a musician to sit in a room and play music and kind of construct what that should sonically sound like.. that came a lot easier than say write a riff and then build it out from that. It was like I was in conversation with somebody and then afterwards I was thinking a lot about that conversation and that person’s experience. Then to sit down in my room and start writing music, it just became a lot more natural and just became a situation which is beyond words. You feel every striking bit of what that might have felt like. It sounds so corny and I hate using it, but truly turning an emotion into sound is how that’s sort of put together. It’s definitely for me a lot more impactful than sitting in a room being ‘Okay crap, we’re writing an album so let’s just start putting riffs together and what will this all sound like’. It’s just taking an idea of a conversation you have with someone who’s had a really terrible time and confiding with you about what that kind of looked like, and then you taking that away and being like ‘Okay I’m going to build a song around this and what would that song sound like based off all the information I’ve just received.'”
Piggy-backing on this, Luke added that the most powerful songs of Liar were created completely organically through just jamming. “So I would sit there with the lyrics when we would just jam out, like in a rehearsal space, and we literally just created. I think the beginning of “Magdalene” was completely created in one session. Lyrically and everything. This was a real magical moment between all of us. We all looked at each other like ‘Far out! THAT’s going to be on the album’. There were 35 songs in total that were written for the album. We cut it down to 11 that we all personally agreed on. With Cory Judd who helped us produce and engineer the album, he also had a massive say on what made the cut. We had a lot to work with and that really worked in our favour as well.”
Historical Nods in Art & Sound
Close to home, expressing push-back of responsibility, and painted by tragedy, Liar‘s artwork captures the album in one image. “The photo is a photo from Belic’s family photos,” Luke shared. “The kitchen of one of his family homes. We did the artwork after the album was finalised completely. That why it looks like it’s the cover of the film, if that makes sense. I just wanted it all to tie in as a cohesive piece of music, but also a visual concept as well. The whole theme was.. it’s the Mason murders. I don’t know how much you know of the Manson murders, but after the murders were committed, they did write in blood on the walls a lot of insane things, like terrible things about the victims and their own psychotic beliefs. I think within the album there is a sense of mania, so we kind of wanted to portray that. In part with Callum Robinson who we worked very closely with to put that together, we gave him a very clear vision of what we wanted for the cover.”
Liar also features samples of ‘old-timey’ television across several songs as well, which Luke explained also tied into the artwork. “We did that from the 1950s and 1960s; their documentary and news broadcasting. There’s one that actually falls a little bit out of place. We just took a sample of a wedding ceremony. We tried to get it as old as we could archived audio of that, but that was to represent obviously the marriage side of things and the break of trust there.”
Luke sought to have each song represent a channel of a TV and the person who’s listening is flicking through channels and seeing ads between songs. “Because the album has a bit of an old time feel sort of, I wanted it to sound like a period piece from the 1950s or the 1960s essentially. I think it’s between “Genesis Flood” and “Pine”, you actually hear a shift of channel. Like a ‘shhh’, like an old TV when you click it across. We added that effect in there, it’s supposed to sound like a channel is being changed quite drastically.”
Luke describes himself as a visual person, which contributes to his clear ideas on how a listener would take in the stories and poems of Liar. He shared that the lack of hooks require for a listener to take time with the lyrics and follow along with the album, and excitedly shared a lyric video created by Sam Peina; tying the TV theme together with the visual of the lyrics.
The opening line of Liar includes mention of the previous two album names (Doubt and Divorce). An obvious question is how the three link together. “I never came up with a title of our albums,” Luke shared. “Someone very close to me who has contributed along the way, contributed to the titles of the albums.” Elaborating on the album choices, as well as demonstrating their clear vision of what they’re creating, Luke continued, “We always had in our mind that we would do this as a three album vibe. That’s why when we approached labels and when we were doing that shopping stage, which most bands go through, they were like ‘No, you should do an EP’, and we were like ‘No we HAVE to do it as an album’ as this has always been the focus of this band. We’ve been working toward this for a very long time. “
Unfortunately their attempt to shop around for label signing was unsuccessful. “Yep, no one liked it. They didn’t get it.” Admitting that they could definitely do with extra arms and eyes and support of a label, She Cries Wolf are happy to not be under pressure, and to have the freedom to make their own choices. As one example, they’re thinking about limited runs of vinyl for Liar.
The independence they feel as a band also carries a sense of nostalgia for Luke, who describes what it was like as a teenager and finding songs on Limewire. “There was no pre-ordering. Just finding the music and listening to it and falling in love with the songs. You create your own vibe.” He hopes there’ll be a cultural shift toward the music and experiences like live shows versus things like music videos or release campaigns.
Daniel reiterated this, echoing a desire for the music – and the connections that it makes, whether with people or emotionally with the stories – to be the focus. “First and foremost we just wanted to push out music that people could connect to. And whatever happens after that is secondary. From our end, the ability to convey other peoples’ messages out into the audience and have other people to connect to it is fucking awesome. It’s even better for us. That’s what success has always looked like in our minds. It wasn’t always like be #1 on ARIA, it wasn’t push pre-sales or anything like that. It was ‘How do we make the story as accessible as possible? And if people to connect to the journey? That’s a job well done on our end.”
Daniel described with a sense of pride that he and the She Cries Wolf guys feel surrounded by incredible people who understand what they’re trying to do, and can relate to what you’re doing. “First and foremost it’s simply that. Music is simply there to connect to, and the more that people connect to it the better. That’s us.”
Though it’s not officially announced yet, the guys shared that they’ll be touring in May and June, playing every major city (but not getting down to Tasmania, unfortunately). I’m looking forward to sharing a beer when they hit Melbourne.[Photo of She Cries Wolf by Rowan Donohue]